Shamanism, often considered the oldest of the healing professions, uses the voice, drum, and rattles to communicate with the spirit world, seeking its positive healing energy for a patient. The human voice is the most common means used to summon the spirit worlds.
In our Native American cultures, specific ‘songs’ are used for healing and passed down from one generation to the next. Each culture, having its own traditions, also has its songs.
When one first hears a shaman’s song, one cannot help but feel that all the words sound the same. Much of this may be due to imitation in movies and TV shows. The standard song seems to be “Ah Hey Ya” or something similar to “Ye Ha No Ha”. Careful listening reveals that the sounds are the vowel sounds of A, E, IO, and U. Each vowel sound is elongated and is sung with a specific intent: the intent to heal a sick patient. Each vowel has its own meaning.
As tradition dictates, the four directions are recognized. The vowel A represents the Earth and refers to the North direction. E represents Air and the direction of the East; I represents Fire and the South direction, O represents Water and the West direction. The vowel of O represents the ether and significantly refers to being close. Once the four directions and the ether are recognized, the vowel sounds change in use and meaning. The vowel sound A is for purification, while I emphasizes our relationship to all things (living and non-living), E brings a connection to the spirit world, and U brings the shaman into the spirit’s presence. Or invoke the idea of innocence.
During the chant, the shaman may accompany himself with a drumbeat or the sound of a rattle. A helper can play the drum or shake the bells. During this time, the shaman may dance around the patient.
Thanks to modern science, we have a better understanding of what the physical aspects of sound have on humans. Simply put, all things are vibrating molecules. When we’re sick, those vibrations get out of sync. The shaman and his singing and his drumming connect to that vibration and realign the natural harmonics of the body; therefore, allowing him to heal himself.
Norman W. Wilson, PhD